The Cash Machine
Newstalk, Today FM
The Morning Show with Declan Meehan
East Coast FM, weekdays, 10am
As someone whose main experience of gambling has been horse racing or football, I was always slightly mystified by what I regarded as the lower forms, such as scratch cards or the currently popular Cash Machine on Newstalk, Today FM, 98 FM, SPIN FM and SPIN South West – parts of the GoLoud Network.
The Cash Machine is a form of gambling, by the way – even if you don’t get the thrill of the few minutes of a race or a football match, you’re getting some of those primal energies.
You can enter the competition from 7am, with a text that costs €2.50. And then the fun starts, or at least the sort of fun you get for €2.50, that requires you to take note of a number, say, 4576.98, and be able to quote it to a person from one of those radio stations who calls you at some point during the day.
This is the only skill involved, it sounds somewhat easier than picking the winner of the 3.30 at Haydock. Though no doubt your sense of achievement will not be diminished if you do actually win all that wonga.
Oh, and you must answer your phone within five rings, or you lose. For the avoidance of doubt, a sound of “ring ring” counts as one ring. And if you lose, the money rolls over till the next day, or until such time as somebody does it right.
Now you may be thinking that modern life is stressful enough without going around all day with a stake in this numbers racket – but it is roughly the same as picking your horses in the morning, and hoping against hope that they do the business for you in the afternoon.
Still, with this radio game you’ll be running scenarios in your mind that are perhaps more nightmarish than the usual ones endured by the punter – if you’re approaching a Garda checkpoint, and your phone rings, and you reckon it must be Newstalk, you must make an agonising decision to risk the penalty points for the cash... if you’re trapped in the dentist’s chair and you hear your phone ringing, an already unpleasant experience will be made infinitely worse... if you’re a doctor, you’ll imagine yourself telling someone they’ve got six months to live, at which point the phone rings and you feel compelled to answer it because matters of life and death are important, but 20 grand, after all, is 20 grand.
This is the kind of “penetration” that these radio stations are getting from their Cash Machine. Soon they may even start to wonder why they bother to make radio programmes at all.
Like a conventional betting corporation, they are getting to live in your head, and you’re paying for it.
Declan Meehan has been living for a long time, without ever living in your head – not in a bad way. For those of us who have East Coast FM as our local station, his Morning Show offers a kind of refuge from the Cash Machine and other forms of high anxiety – though along with local matters he covers Ukraine of course, with contributors such as Tom Clonan.
The kind of item Meehan does, with apparently effortless ease and sensitivity, was the one last week about a new play written about Marie Fleming – the woman who suffered from multiple sclerosis and who became known in the media as the “right to die campaigner”.
Her husband Tom Curran has continued to work to raise awareness of the issue of euthanasia, and now KathyAnn Murphy has written the play Letting Go, which will feature Pat Nolan of Fair
City fame. Meehan talked to the three of them like he was chatting to them in his kitchen.
Last Tuesday he was followed by a lunchtime show presented by Jim O’Neill, another veteran of the original RTÉ Radio 2, normally the presenter of Solid Gold Sunday – here he was filling in for the usual guy Tommy Greene, as if the radio gods were wheeling out a couple of legends of the game one after the other, to reassure us in these dark times of the eternal verities.
We were reminded of this too by the BBC setting up shortwave radio frequencies for the people of Ukraine, as TV towers were bombed, and the internet was down.
As the English radio presenter Darryl Morris tweeted, “you don’t get that with a Netflix subscription”.